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european sprints and hurdles conference

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Dan Pfaff
Dan Pfaff

14 November 2010

270 delegates from across Europe and as far afield as Canada, USA and Qatar attended the inaugural European Sprints and Hurdles Conference, hosted by UKA, England Athletics and the Ron Pickering Memorial Fund,  at the Radisson Hotel, London Heathrow on Saturday 13/Sunday 14 November.

The delegates, who were attending the final event in the 2010 European Coaching Summit Series, were welcomed by UKA’s Strategic Head of Coaching and Development, Kevin Tyler, and were reminded of Britain’s great tradition in the sprints events and UKA’s commitment to investing in coaching and coaching programmes through to London 2012 and beyond.

USA Track and Field’s (USATF) Dr Ralph Mann focused on sprint biomechanics on day one and hurdle biomechanics on day two, his opening keynote offering strong scientific evidence as a platform for the entire event.

"Information is the key to success" said Mann, and USATF have contributed to that philosophy through analysis of sprints performances since 1981 through the USATF Sports Science Programme.

In quoting the work of Newton; "force is required to change velocity" he underlined the simplicity of his work where ultimately, he says, "the goal is just to get to the finish line first."

Simplicity and natural talent were common themes throughout the Conference and were evident in presentations by Dan Pfaff: "Donovan Bailey: three months to gold" and Malcolm Arnold: "The Ugandan System" amongst others.

Pfaff, coach to European Championships silver medallist Christian Malcolm, is UKA’s National Performance Centre Director at Lee Valley in London and has coached over 70 athletes - including former 100m World Record holder Bailey - to Olympic Games and World Championships. 

Bailey was "allergic to work, but gifted," says Pfaff who learned a lot from the 1996 Olympic champion who, he says, was initially hesitant to get involved with him. "Maybe you know something," the confident Bailey later admitted having made exceptional progress under Pfaff in a short period of time.

Arnold, coach to European and Commonwealth 400mH champion David Greene and European Championships silver medallist Rhys Williams, is UKA’s National Event Coach for Hurdles. He has coached numerous athletes to Olympic, World and European titles over a 43-year period including former 110mH World Record holder Colin Jackson and - during his five years in Uganda as Head Coach - John Akii-Bua to Olympic gold and a then-World Record.

He continued the theme by stating that "intelligent, intuitive athletes are a great source of coach education; don’t underestimate the value of an athlete as a learning resource."

You need to "understand your event in simple terms," he explained, and learn from your experiences.

Additional keynote presentations came from Henk Kraaijenhof - who also delivered a breakout session on individualisation with a focus on Nelli Cooman and Merlene Ottey - on "Troy Douglas: coaching the older athlete" and Pfaff who delivered a Q&A linked to a sprints video analysis, while former UKA Cardiff-based coach and current Swedish Lead Coach for Hurdles Benke Blomkvist discussed the development of the hurdles event with a focus on 100mH and 110mH specifically through individual breakout sessions. "Refine what is already there," he said. "Use the existing talent and build on it."

In addition to the daytime presentations, the Coaching Legends Gala Dinner was an enormous success. Tom McNab gave an enjoyable history of coaching from the Greeks through to 1963 when he was awarded his first coaching role, and Ron Roddan was awarded the first “Ron Pickering Legends of Coaching” award to a full house standing ovation.

"This event has been a fitting conclusion to a packed week of conference activity across the UK and underlines our commitment to investing in our coaches and offering them world class educational and development opportunities," said Kevin Tyler. "Not only did our coaches have the chance to listen to global experts in the field of sprinting and hurdles through exceptional scientific evidence and good coaching practice, but they were also able to network and learn from one another."

Simon Duberley, coach to Aviva GB & NI representatives Nigel Levine and Deji Tobais, said: "This kind of event is exceptionally valuable. In 2009 Ralph Mann spoke at conferences in the USA - Las Vegas and Orlando I think - and it would have cost me a fortune to get out there. He is the scientist in biomechanics and to travel this short distance to hear him present and meet him...for someone like me that reads a lot about the science of the sport and wants to learn, it fills the gap."

Elaine McCaffrey, Athletics Northern Ireland’s Talent Development Coach, added: "I work with a lot of athletes and their coaches and this makes me feel so excited about putting everything I’ve learned into practice. I particularly enjoyed Benke’s hurdles presentation because it put some meat on the bones of what I was already doing and shows me that we’re going in the right direction. I really want to implement it now."